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Suzan Wexler

Suzan Wexler

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Also Known As: Susan Wexler Died:
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Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

While his output as a screenwriter was hardly prolific (due in part to his struggle with manic depression), Norman Wexler contributed to a handful of films that provided strong roles for leading men and have come to be considered by some critics as "modern classics" from the 1970s. The New England native, who marked time working in advertising in the 1950s and 60s while writing plays, struck pay dirt with his first produced effort, "Joe" (1970), a dark look at bigotry and violence that showcased the talents of Peter Boyle in the title role. While some found the plot a bit contrived (a button-downed type commits a murder and confesses it to a stranger with whom he forms an unlikely friendship), others were impressed with its spleen-venting attack on small-mindedness. Wexler earned an Oscar nod for his script and his Hollywood career took off in earnest. He shared writing duties on "Serpico" (1973) with Waldo Salt and the pair were rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for their superb adaptation of Peter Maas' nonfiction look at an undercover cop exposing corruption within the ranks of the NYPD. Finely realized by Sidney Lumet, the film also provided actor Al Pacino with a tour de force role, one...

While his output as a screenwriter was hardly prolific (due in part to his struggle with manic depression), Norman Wexler contributed to a handful of films that provided strong roles for leading men and have come to be considered by some critics as "modern classics" from the 1970s. The New England native, who marked time working in advertising in the 1950s and 60s while writing plays, struck pay dirt with his first produced effort, "Joe" (1970), a dark look at bigotry and violence that showcased the talents of Peter Boyle in the title role. While some found the plot a bit contrived (a button-downed type commits a murder and confesses it to a stranger with whom he forms an unlikely friendship), others were impressed with its spleen-venting attack on small-mindedness. Wexler earned an Oscar nod for his script and his Hollywood career took off in earnest. He shared writing duties on "Serpico" (1973) with Waldo Salt and the pair were rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for their superb adaptation of Peter Maas' nonfiction look at an undercover cop exposing corruption within the ranks of the NYPD. Finely realized by Sidney Lumet, the film also provided actor Al Pacino with a tour de force role, one of the best in his career.

Wexler stumbled with his next two features, the uneven adaptations of the novels "Mandingo" (1975) and it sequel "Drum" (1976). While the writer strove to create a true picture of slavery and Southern racism, the stereotypical dialogue, lascivious depictions of miscegenation and overripe performances worked against those intentions. Despite the presence of fine actors (i.e., James Mason, Yaphet Kotto) "Mandingo" falls somewhere between historical soap opera and social statement while "Drum" merely seemed lurid exploitation. Wexler, however, bounced back in 1977 crafting a finely observed character study of a Brooklynite finding himself through disco, "Saturday Night Fever." Once again, the writer centered the story on well-defined male, employing his patented use of "street" vernacular and the marriage of actor John Travolta with the role of Tony Manero resulted in stardom and the birth of a cultural icon. "Saturday Night Fever" also reinvigorated, albeit briefly, the musical genre. Although audiences were not exactly clamoring for it, the screenwriter penned a sequel, "Stayin' Alive" (1983), that was "improved" by director Sylvester Stallone. With a newly buffed Travolta playing Tony as a professional dancer torn between two women, the result was disappointing and cliche-ridden and, ironically, sounded the death knell for screen musicals. After participating in the Writers Guild strike of 1985, Wexler went on to contribute to one final produced screenplay, "Raw Deal" (1986), one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's least successful vehicles.

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